How Gung-ho Should Newspapers Be About Video?

This is a question that I have heard debated fiercely in newsrooms. On the one hand, as the largest news engines in any given metropolitan area, newspapers want to start giving people their news in any medium they want it — and given the success of YouTube, many people feel that involves video. Now that newspapers can post breaking news as it happens, suddenly they can compete with TV in ways once unimaginable, and given the state of local TV news in many areas, one might gather there is some opportunity there. Columnists and features departments could perhaps produce some entertaining, lighter content via video as well, it is sometimes suggested. Having missed the boat on many other online trends, from social media to classifieds, newspapers understandably don’t want to get left behind on this one.

On the other hand, many newspaper staffers resist video as something that shouldn’t be done “just because we can” and there is real concern about quality, given that print journalists aren’t exactly trained in this form of storytelling. One photographer told me that contrary to what many reporters and editors think, photographers can’t make the transition to moving pictures very easily. Yes, they may understand how to get a clear shot and how to use light, but most photographers think in still images, and actually aren’t as comfortable as many reporters are with the conventions of narrative that characterize video storytelling. Procuding video takes time, even as most newspapers are slashing staff, and folks say there is a steep learning curve.

I don’t have any answers to this dilemma. The Newspaper Association of America came out with a whole slew of resources today for newspapers interested in trying more video; I haven’t waded through all of it but it seems potentially useful to me. I think it makes perfect sense for reporters to carry (cheap, light) video cameras around for breaking news or capturing a serendipitous moment, and in these cases, quality is not a major issue. If I was an editor, I would encourage all of those interested to experiment with video because I think that newsrooms right now need to be fostering an atmosphere of risk-taking and trying new things. This doesn’t mean that quality doesn’t matter, but people have to crawl before they run.

I’m deeply sympathetic of those who argue that not everybody can or should do everything, but I think that at least for now, the Internet is pushing strongly for everyone being able to at least dabble in everything. That may settle out over time and we may see some greater re-specialization, but for now it might be best to embrace it.

For me personally, I’m much more verbal than visual and only rarely watch any online video of any kind; but my students and friends certainly watch a fair amount of it — although it tends to be more of the Pinky the Cat variety than hard news.

What do you think?


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